How do I know if this is burnout?
A couple of weeks ago, I heard a podcast host describe his decision to leave his high-paced tech job because he was “burned out.” Then, at a conference last week, I listened as two mangers had a conversation about avoiding burnout on their team. I also saw a magazine with a cover story about burnout recently.
Hearing about burnout isn’t new — I’m pretty sure people have been writing about it since the first person suddenly had enough paid time off to take some time away from work, return, look around, and think “wow, I hate this.” And it was a huge topic in the halcyon, post-recession, Obama-era days of tech startups and bouncing back. When work was the answer and also the problem.
But it’s been coming up a lot more again lately, which has made it harder for me to do what I’ve historically done, which is largely ignored the discourse around burnout. Because, honestly, it sounded mostly like the purview of tech bros who worked a little too hard and now they’re going to take their golden parachutes and play even harder. Burnout has always struck me as a kind of affluenza — like something that mostly impacts the wealthy because they’re the only ones with the privilege to categorize it and act on it.
It’s just not a term that I’ve ever really identified with — not because I’ve loved my jobs (I do not dream of labor), but because it sounded like something that I couldn’t afford. But now, as it’s been coming up again and again, sometimes with my peers, I have a new question: How would I know if was experiencing burnout? Would I know at all?
Or would I, as a member of a generation that graduated into the worst economy in decades and who has had to claw for even the basic trappings of a middle-class life, just think this is how it is? How it must be?
Would I know if I was burnt out if taking time away from work has literally never been financially feasible?
Would I know if I was burnt out if working cushy white-collar jobs was, by default, a respite from when I was working three and four jobs at a time, mostly in service, all of which were underpaid?